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 - Alena Riha -

Soldiers follow kings and generals into battle. Men. Partly also women of royal blood, especially for the latter reasons. However, a woman in ancient Greece managed to gather warriors around her without royal claim. We are talking about Cratesipolis, Mistress of Corinth and Sicyon. Cratesipolis' background is unclear. Speculations range from a Macedonian noblewoman to an aristocrat from a Greek city-state. Cratesipolis probably was not her birth name, as it appears more likely, due to the meaning “She who Rules the City”, that she received it later. She was married to Alexander, son of Polyperchon, a Macedonian general. After her husband was betrayed and murdered in 315 BC by supposed friends from Sicyon, Cratesipolis not only took over the leadership of his men but was also determined to avenge this betrayal.

But why did the warriors follow her? Diodorus writes that Cratesipolis was very popular among the soldiers. For she gained their loyalty and admiration especially through her kindness. She distinguished herself by her habit of helping and supporting those who had few or no resources. However, she soon demonstrated that behind the soft smile, there was steel. The residents of Sicyon armed themselves against her to regain their independence. It is said that they believed they would win easily against a woman. But they couldn’t be more wrong. How the battle went down is not documented. In any case, she defeated the attackers and according to Diodorus, it seems that Cratesipolis was indeed a woman who was politically and militarily savvy. After her victory, she had thirty men, presumably the leaders of the uprising and murderers of her husband, crucified. She took over the rule of Sicyon as well as Corinth and Grabowski thinks that she was even politically influential beyond her dominion.

Her reign lasted only a few years, for Cratesipolis handed over the cities to Ptolemy of Egypt in 308 BC. It is not clear why she did that, and opinions differ regarding her motivations. On the one hand it is said that she left and pretended to get reinforcements from Sicyon to save her men from a fight because she knew they would never surrender. On the other hand, it is speculated that she considered Ptolemy a friend and voluntarily handed over the cities to him since she was at odds with Cassander.

Another theory is that she couldn’t meet the demands of the garrison in Corinth and that was the reason they initially wanted to stand against Ptolemy.Even though we may never find out, we know that she eventually went to the city of Patrae in Achaia with her men.

The following year she is said to have come into contact again with another major player in the Diadochi Wars: Demetrius. It is said he wanted to meet her, after hearing of her equally famed beauty. However the meet up never happened, as his enemies surprised him first.

Still we have to be careful about the historicity of this event as Plutarch is our only source. We learn nothing more about Cratesipolis' later life and it is possible that she spent the rest of her life in Patrae. Still she left behind a legacy, as she is one of the few known women in Ancient Greek History to have ruled cities and led men loyal to her into battle in her own name. This is truly an achievement, especially since she was not of royal blood nor a man and gained the loyalty of her troops with an “unusual” tool: Kindness and charity.


Image: Alena Riha (2024)


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